Gender Studies expert and mentor, Monique Ewen is on a mission to educate dads on feminism and gender equality and starts her series of workshops next month. We caught up with her to find out more.
D.A.D: The workshops sound like a great idea. What was the thinking behind them?
ME: Initially it was a response to the question of how to engage men with gender equality programs at work. I passionately believe we need to encourage men to take a more active stand in fighting for gender equality, both at home and at work. So the trick was finding gender issues that men could relate to. I settled on dads because fatherhood is a time in men’s lives when they become acutely aware of gender—in sharing parental leave and childcare, in negotiating gender stereotyped toys, games and clothes, in empowering their kids to follow their dreams in a fair and ethical way, in dealing with workplaces that aren’t family friendly, and so much more. It’s clear that there are many dads out there who do care about these issues and want things to be different and feminism has so much to offer them. So Feminism for Dads seemed like the perfect solution.
D.A.D: You’ve already rolled it out, what was the feedback like?
ME: People loved it! I ran a short session at Wood Festival in the summer and we had a huge turnout with 25 dads staying for the whole session and others popping in and out.
The dads were really grateful to have a space where it was ok to ask those difficult questions about what it means to be a good dad and a good man.
And they seemed grateful to me as well for being able to guide them through some key feminist principles without being preachy. I really focus on allowing the knowledge to emerge from the group rather than just telling people what to believe. That initial session started a lot of interesting conversations and raised a lot of questions, so the idea with these half-day workshops is to have an opportunity to get into those issues in a bit more detail and workshop some answers and action points.
D.A.D: What are your goals for the workshop—are you staying in Oxford?
ME: Long term, I’d like this to become a mainstream program in schools and workplaces throughout the UK and the world. There’s a need for conversations about dads’ role in family life, as it has changed so much in the last hundred years and especially in the last few decades. If we continue on our current path – with increasing numbers of families with both parents working – then we’re going to need to change the structure of our working lives. We can’t just outsource all our childcare or we’ll end up with a different kind of inequality, based on ethnicity and race, as the majority white high-income earners turn to cheap immigrant labour for domestic help, which is already happening. We have an old-fashioned notion that one person can work crazy hours and have no life outside that because traditionally that person would have been supported by a full time partner at home who fed and clothed them, cared for the kids and managed their social and community needs.
If both parents are working, we need to find a new balance between work and home life. And if we’re going to make a success of that, men need to be part of the conversation.
D.A.D: Who is your ideal attendee and why?
ME: I’m looking for dads who are already curious about feminism. Maybe their kids are in high school and starting to come home asking questions. Or maybe they’ve got a young family and they want to know how better to support their partners and be involved with their kids. Parenting can be pretty uncertain territory, but a lot of dads are sure about one thing – they want to do things differently to their own fathers. But that leaves them a bit stuck, as they haven’t got many positive examples to turn to of the kinds of dads they want to be. So my ideal attendee is the dad who knows things can be better but needs a little guidance and support to make it happen.
D.A.D: Do you think that certain people are scared of the word feminism?
ME: Plenty of people are scared of it. But that’s the result of centuries-old scare campaigns that have spread false information in an attempt to discount women’s rights activists and everything women have achieved. Feminism only arrived in the English language in the late 19th Century, and it was first used as a derogatory term. So every time we use it positively and with conviction, we are vindicating the hard work of those early campaigners for women’s suffrage and women’s education. It’s easy to forget how recently most of those gains have been made – like it wasn’t until 1920 that women were entitled to earn degrees from Oxford.
There’s so much misinformation out there and my workshops are about educating people to better understand the history and the things history has forgotten so that we can make better decisions now. And I’m certain there are people out there who are genuinely curious about feminism and want to know more.
D.A.D: What else needs to be done do you feel to support this?
ME: It would be really great if more workplaces and schools could actively take up programs like this. It is especially important for business leaders to set an example, not just the women, but the men as well. I want to hear about their families, their attempts to manage their work/life balance. The media in general could do a lot more to tell us about men’s side of domestic life, while at the same time reporting more seriously about women’s achievements in the workplace.
D.A.D: What challenges do you face currently?
ME: The challenge I find is in keeping the back of my mind focused on the big picture goals – the vague ideal of gender equality – while actually working day to day on making incremental changes to help people shift their perspectives. I don’t want to be too prescriptive about what gender equality should look like; the ideal outcome will result from everybody working together to slowly change their thinking and eventually create new systems and behaviours that are better for everybody.
Monique’s workshops start on 3rd October:
What is Feminism?
Dinner and Discussions
Tuesday 3rd October
Barracks Lane Community Garden
Feminism for Dads (West Oxford)
Saturday 7th October
West Oxford Community Centre
Feminism for Dads (East Oxford)
Saturday 21st October
Rose Hill Community Centre
Why every girl needs a feminist dad – From The Telegraph, September 2016